Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Only Real Librarians Get to Read This

We all know librarians hate stereotypes of librarians, which is why some are compelled to indelibly ink their skin and post public pictures of themselves or anonymously tell the world that they don’t like library patrons.

I’m not sure what they’re trying to prove with this, since basically no one but librarians cares about librarian stereotypes, and all the tattoos in the world won’t change anyone’s opinion.

If we’re going to fight librarian stereotypes, perhaps the one we should fight the most isn’t the bun-wearing shusher or the sexy librarian, but the stereotype that everyone who works in a library is a librarian.

If we did that, we probably wouldn’t see headlines like this: College librarian denies LGBT student use of school laptop because he looked feminine.

Or the even stranger one: School Librarian To Gay Male Student: “You Sound, Look, and Act Like a Girl”.

It’s almost like these journalists can’t tell the difference between librarians and other library workers, or between academic library workers and school librarians. That’s crazy!

The story goes that a student at Florida Atlantic University tried to check out a laptop from the university library, but claims he was denied because the staff person dealing with him said he looked and acted like a girl, and the university ID was clearly for a guy.

Because there probably wasn’t a picture or anything to compare the guy’s face to. There’s just an ID for an Abdul, and everyone knows Abduls all act like football players at a keg party.

Then, as the Salon story almost certainly has wrong, he “had to go through three other librarians before he was able to borrow a laptop.”

You see the problem here. Obviously, there was no school librarian involved, and I’m shocked that a publication with the reputation of Queerty would make such a ghastly mistake. What school librarians are left work in schools, not universities. Duh.

And Salon? That bastion of investigative journalism? Honestly, Salon, what are the chances that there are three levels of librarians waiting in line to check out laptops to students. In a lot of academic libraries, three levels would take you from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy. I mean, honestly, how could someone make such a mistake!

I know how, it’s because of that darned librarian stereotype that everyone working in a library is a librarian, from shelvers putting books back in the wrong places to directors passive-aggressively managing the staff.

That’s just plain wrong, and I want it to stop. These publications are missing the real story, which isn’t about laptops or homophobia or whatever, but about the inaccurate stereotypes that librarians face every day.

Yeah, yeah, you’re probably thinking that this poor kid was embarrassed in a library, denied a service of the library by some staff member just because she thought he was too effeminate. Injustice was done.

But the far bigger injustice is that he thinks everyone who works in a library is a librarian. When is that story going to be told? When will that travesty make the headlines?

Instead of tattoos, I recommend a more aggressive strategy to fight this problem. Librarians should wear big buttons that say, “Only REAL librarians get to wear these buttons.” Then they should stand watch over service desks and say loudly to every patron “She’s not a librarian! I’m the real librarian!”

And possibly also, “Look at my tattoo!”

Without that sort of aggressive and stereotype-defying action, we won’t make any progress in this fight. After we get it sorted out that it wasn’t a librarian who denied a laptop, or whatever other egregious acts have been attributed to librarians, then we can figure out what to do about other injustices.

Until then, we fight the stereotypes. If not us, who? If not now, when?



  1. When I worked in a public library I was well aware that the public lumped everyone who worked there, sometimes even the volunteers with their big “VOLUNTEER” nametags, under the LIBRARIAN heading. Heck, I did that before I went to library school.

    I was one of those lucky few MLS holding management types, a “real librarian” if you will, but it didn’t bother me one bit. Who cares? Life’s too short to get worked up over little things like titles, especially when it’s a battle that was lost decades before I was born.

    Besides, it was a source of endless amusement to watch eyelids twitch and mouths tighten on some of the more uptight MLS holders when they saw Joe Public walk up to a page and call them a librarian.

    • Agreed! The story is about a library employee who refused to check out material to someone who did not match his identification. Whether this was an act of bigotry or simply an employee standing behind policy is as irrelevant as whether or not the employee has an MLS.

      Patrons who come to a library should receive the same high level of service from every employee. If our paraprofessionals are embarassing us, we should either train them better or refrain from hiring them.

      Pharmacies suffer the exact same problems – everyone behind the counter is a “pharmacist” in the customer’s eyes, and yet if a tech messes up, the Ph.D holder doesn’t stand back with arms crossed and let you take the wrong medicine while condemning the paraprofessional for tarnishing his reputation.

  2. the big picture says:

    I don’t think the problem AL is trying to address is that librarians sometimes feel insulted or offended when someone who is not a librarian is called one, but a bigger problem… being that when all library staff are lumped together and everyone is called a librarian it gives the actual librarians a bad name when someone who isn’t one does something unprofessional. Like many news stories, such as the ones mentioned here. It would be interested to investigate to find out how many of the stories about “librarians” were actually about librarians.

    • annoyedlibraryworker says:

      Why does it matter if they were an “actual” librarian or not? If someone working in a library behaves in a way unfitting, it is a mark against the whole library, librarians included. I’ve encountered my fair share of situations where “real” librarians acted in an unprofessional manner and the “faux” librarians had to try to rectify the situation. If librarians want the public to understand the difference between the job titles, perhaps they should create some “learn about the library caste system” posters, or have a picture of everyone on staff, their title, credentials and an explanation of level of skill.

    • I agree that it should be irrelevant. If one of the staff under my supervision acts unprofessionally or screw up I take it as a personal failure and try to rectify the problem. Customer service should be exemplary from everyone who is providing it.

  3. Miss Librarian says:

    Ha! I have the opposite problem at my academic library. I’m young (and look young), and many patrons think I’m a student worker, even though I dress professionally. “Can I please speak with a librarian?”

    • I actually once had a parent look me up and down and say “Could I maybe speak to one of the Librarians? Is there an older lady in the back?” /headdesk

    • ALL. THE TIME.

    • Same problem. A student at the college library I work at asked me the other day while I was on the reference desk if I’m a freshman. A FRESHMAN.

      The way I look at it, though, is that the day when they stop making that mistake is going to be a sad day in my aging process ;-)

      Do any librarians “look like” a librarian anymore? I know many, many people in their 20s-40s in the field. And many of us have gotten LASIK and ditched the glasses.

  4. You studied library science,right? So obviously “real” librarians should be wearing labcoats. Library Technicians could get by with pocket protectors and mere clerks like myself simply need to keep a pencil perched above our ear.

  5. The definition for “librarian” in my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language is “a custodian of a library.” It’s a shame that now innocent library janitors everywhere will be associated with this bigoted library employee.

  6. Deprofessionalization is a serious problem amidst the eroding profession of librarianship. Angsty responses by those who followed the professional route show this. I would say all librarians now are “Rodney Dangerfields” not just school librarians as the AL has described. Also in my opinion the public at large is a good barometer of what is considered a professional position. Many efforts of professional groups work hard to get the message to the public about their field in an effort to legitimize it. Perception does tell a real story. People don’t think their surgeon is sitting at the hospital information desk.

  7. To be honest, a number of our “para-professionals” at my public library exhibit quite a bit more professionalism and people skills than the degreed librarians. We have a couple excellent librarians, but a number of them nap at the desk, don’t get “all this electronic stuff”, and would really rather not deal with people.

    • annoyedlibraryworker says:

      Agreed. I am weary of the assertion by “real” librarians that because they have their degree that they are aren’t likely behave in a racist or homophobic manner, and that student workers/para professionals because they don’t possess the degree are more likely. That somehow having an MLS auto-magically makes you a better library employee then any one else. Using these kinds of situations to argue that this is why you need to hire more librarians, insults the intelligence of not only the other library staff, but the reader. Librarians are just as likely to be discriminatory or behave as poorly as any other segment of the population.

    • I agree with that too, deprofessionalization though is not a matter of para vs. pro. It’s a matter of a loss of a clear role, or perceived need, for anyone earning their bread in the stacks.

    • out2pasture says:

      Hazel: our library too…..

  8. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Wow, a lot of people responding to this post need to go back to school and enroll in Sarcasm 101 with a lab section on how to recognize it.

  9. West coast librarian says:

    My thoughts exactly! I was laughing as I read the article.

  10. John Alita says:


    ” Yeah, yeah, you’re probably thinking that this poor kid was embarrassed in a library, denied a service of the library by some staff member just because she thought he was too effeminate. Injustice was done.

    But the far bigger injustice is that he thinks everyone who works in a library is a librarian.”

    Seriously? So prejudice is much less important than whether some student knows if “Librarians” work there? Maybe you’re using hyperbole to prove some inane point but I find it offensive to compare those things in the same sentence. Why is it anyone’s responsibility to educate people about who are “Librarians” and who are not? Is it so far-fetched that a Librarian might treat someone this way?

    I don’t have any problem with the public thinking we are all Librarians. If you have good management and a well-trained staff it doesn’t matter who they think we are. This isn’t about the public, it’s about a moronic staff person who has poor interpersonal skills and needs a thorough rehabilitation in how to treat fellow humans or be fired.

  11. What I find amazing is that they do not require a photo id to check out a laptop.

  12. Arthur Wendt says:

    I second John Alita’s comment, the real story is the bigotry of this library staff person.

    The original post is a clumsy attempt at satire. I’m guessing.

  13. Actually, John and Arthur, almost by definition, the original post must be rather good satire indeed, judging my the fact that neither of you were quite able to tell whether or not AL was joking (in case you are still not sure, she was — see today’s post). Think the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast; international newspapers picking up stories by The Onion as if they were factual.

    In conclusion: Yes, obviously, bigotry and prejudice are much more important than who is and who is not a librarian — the entire point of the post.

  14. carolyn manning says:

    so much of what happens these days is blamed on racism or bigotry. Give me a break! we need to calm down and stop assuming everyone is out to get us if we are gay, lesbian, transgender, black, or white.

  15. Arthur Wendt says:

    If the student had been challenged over not looking or sounding enough like a race or ethnicity his name suggested, nobody would be making a joke.

  16. Your friendly neighborhood assistant librarian says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this has nothing to do with library job titles, but rather pathetic reporting?

  17. OMG, you are so funny! I love reading the things I’m thinking while I’m checking out books.

  18. What happened there was a sad reflection on society, not libraries or librarians.

    Sorry if anyone might confuse me with an actual Librarian. Perhaps we should wear identifying markers of some kind. Perhaps slave like iron collars? Thus alerting patrons to the fact that we are not Librarians, but mere worker bees and assuring the real Librarians their status?

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